The U.S. bishops' leader on defense of marriage issues is calling for prayer and a "renewed culture of marriage" in light of recent votes against preserving the meaning of the institution in four states.

"In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined," said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who chairs the bishops' subcommittee on defending marriage.

In a Nov. 7 statement, the archbishop explained that the previous day's election "was a disappointing day for marriage," as efforts to preserve marriage's unique meaning in law lost narrowly after being vastly outspent by opponents.

Voters in four states were faced with ballot measures involving the definition of marriage on Nov. 6. For the first time in U.S. history, "gay marriage" was approved by a vote of the people rather than by legislators or a court decision. Previously, marriage as the union of one man and one woman had been affirmed by voters in 32 states.

In both Maryland and Washington state, lawmakers had recently passed bills to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. However, opponents of both bills gathered enough signatures to put the laws before the people in a referendum before they went into effect.

Maryland voters narrowly approved the law to redefine marriage, and while votes in Washington are still being confirmed, it is projected that the referendum succeeded there as well.

In Minnesota, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have protected the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This definition of marriage is currently enshrined in state law, but the constitutional amendment would have given it further security.

Maine activists seeking to redefine marriage were able to put forward a referendum to reverse the people's 2009 vote to protect marriage. That effort succeeded, and the state will soon begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Archbishop Cordileone voiced disappointment with the election results but emphasized that the true meaning of marriage "cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature."

"No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union," he said. "It is either this, or it is nothing at all."

Every child is born from a mother and a father and has the right to be raised by them together, the archbishop said. As a result, marriage has a unique meaning and exists for the good of children.

Emphasizing the growing problems of poverty and broken families, he voiced hope that politicians, judges and the American people "will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage."

Archbishop Cordileone thanked everyone who had given their time, energy and resources to the efforts to protect marriage. He called for continued work to strengthen the fundamental social institution and educate others about its importance.

"I especially call on all people to pray and to build a renewed culture of marriage and the family," he said. "This is a fundamental task on which the future good and stability of our society, and particularly that of our children, rest."